AOPA was founded 77 years ago to protect access to airspace, improve safety, and keep flying affordable—and fun, AOPA President Mark Baker said April 6 during a coffee-and-doughnuts briefing for members and pilots at the forty-second annual Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo in Lakeland, Fla.
“AOPA is a mission. It’s an advocacy group. But it’s really about pulling a community together,” Baker said.
The U.S. pilot population has decreased precipitously from general aviation’s heyday. “In the face of difficulty lies opportunity,” he noted. “We want to focus on the fun.” And AOPA is doing that through You Can Fly, announced last year. “It’s not a banner, it’s not a slogan. It’s a way to start a discussion."
An early focus of You Can Fly has been on flying clubs. “Last year we started 10 new flying clubs around the country,” Baker said, adding that dozens more are in the works. There are 640 flying clubs in AOPA’s Flying Club Network. “I do believe this is the way to grow the pilot population.”
Baker announced that AOPA will give a refurbished Cessna 150 to a flying club. Aircraft like the Cessna 150 are affordable to maintain and operate, he said. The Cessna will be given away to a flying club this October. More information is available online.
AOPA also will continue its focus on increasing student-pilot completion rates. Some schools see a dropout rate of 80 percent, while others see completion rates of 90 percent. “What makes that difference?” he asked. More research this year will help to determine that, he answered.
There’s also a developing effort to grow the pilot population going forward. “This couldn’t be a better time for a young person coming up to go into aviation. The career possibilities are endless,” Baker said. “How do we capture this spark?” AOPA has hired a consultant as part of an effort to infuse aviation into STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—programs.
So far, 25 percent of the inactive aviators who have participated in one of You Can Fly’s Rusty Pilots programs have gone on to complete a flight review—increasing the ranks of active pilots by 1,200, Baker said. As a result of that success, he said, AOPA will double the number of Rusty Pilots seminars presented around the country during 2016.
And third class medical reform continues to be a top priority. “I still see this as our biggest issue to returning people [to aviation], and lowering the cost of general aviation,” he said. The Senate passed the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 in December, but passage through the House has been challenging. Baker remains confident that it will go through. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when,” he said. “We’re in a really good place,” because nobody is disagreeing about the issue anymore.
AOPA continues to work on dozens of other issues as well, Baker said, including unleaded aviation gasoline, changes to Part 23 aircraft certification, protecting airports, and NextGen and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. “I’m a big believer in ADS-B,” he added. “You know what? There are a lot of airplanes out there—and I didn’t see a lot of them” before equipping with ADS-B.